Semi-Fascist, Fully Armed, and Completely Coddled
September 14, 2022
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League issued a comprehensive report on the leaked list of people affiliated with the Oath Keepers. The ADL found a substantial number of cops on the list: 373 law enforcement officers (including 11 sheriffs and 10 police chiefs) and over 1,000 ex-law enforcement officers. The report reminds everyone that the underlying problem – the radicalization of law enforcement officers – remains unaddressed by anyone in power. For comparison, when Germany — which knows a thing or two about fascism, semi- and otherwise — made this kind of discovery about its elite police and military units, the entire apparatus of government when into conniptions.
The Oath Keepers is one of several militia groups that orient themselves around a devotion to guns and a conspiracy-laden suspicion of federal and state governments. Professor Sam Jackson, who has written a book about the organization, says the group “is organized around the belief that America is under threat by people who reject values that the group sees as fundamentally American.” The reverence for such values – loosely based on certain parts of the Constitution and (largely mythical) American history – makes the organization an excellent proxy for the current Republican party, which is now focused on banning books, denigrating the LGBTQ+ community, worshipping guns and violence, and bemoaning “woke” culture.
One of the hallmarks of the Oath Keepers is the recruitment of law enforcement officers. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (the most well-known of “constitutional sheriff” groups) was formed as an intentional offshoot to both indoctrinate law enforcement into the ideals of the paramilitary organization and ensure that anti-government ideology has a foothold in what some might see as the legitimate law enforcement organizations.
Of course, CSPOA isn’t just a foothold – it’s an infection. But who is infecting who?
The leak of the Oath Keepers membership database comes in the context of an increasing awareness that law enforcement agencies are rife with white nationalists and anti-government conspiracy theorists. Are white nationalist law enforcement officers, and especially ex-law enforcement officers, infecting the “constitutional sheriffs” movement, or is the pseudo-intellectual ideology of the constitutional sheriff movement giving new cover to long-established white nationalist networks in law enforcement? We don’t know.
The more practical and therefore pressing question is what to do with this information. The federal government has largely been silent on the topic. Even in his “battle for the soul of the nation” speech, Biden did not call out law enforcement or even militia groups – he generalized the threat to the country as “semi-fascist” and tied it back to Donald Trump: “[T]here’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.”
Some editorials (and most people I talk to) call for purging law enforcement of the anti-government stench. But it seems a stretch in a profession whose members cannot be fired for murder to think that police chiefs, sheriffs, governors, local officials – indeed even the federal government – will consider this a viable remedy. There are valid First Amendment concerns, but the widespread paralysis is beyond that. Courts, lawmakers, administrators, police unions, and so on all exist to protect law enforcement so that they may “do their jobs,” which is to occupy communities, enforce the social order, and protect property and commerce with violent force.
And, in fact, why should we expect the oft-stated weeding of the “bad apples” will ever happen when it never has before? Biden has done precisely the opposite – he may say he is concerned about some factions of the Republican party, and he avowed that no one likes “bad police,” but he continues to fund the police without a requirement that they “root out” white supremacy or fascism. Some law enforcement agencies are run by extremists, not just harboring them. Yet, they get money all the same.
Biden – indeed everyone in the federal government – understands implicitly that fascism and law enforcement go hand-in-hand. Law enforcement officers are trained in violent tactics that today purport to mirror military techniques. They are indoctrinated into a culture where they are the chosen few, like so many crusaders, under the thrall of no laws. They have their own flags, their own language, their own songs, their own symbols. They are a nation unto themselves—military power, without military discipline or civilian control.
It is natural that the Blue Line Nation would oppose factions of the federal government that would seek to hold them back. When faced with massive opposition from a highly-armed, moderately-well trained military organization, who will Biden be to stop them? Who is anyone?
In The New Yorker, Luke Mogelstein, who was with the insurrectionists as they raided the Capitol on January 6, noted that the (largely white) far-right extremists were, in general, treated well by the Capitol Police, who graciously opened doors and ensured Mogelstein – who would have looked to the police like one of the insurrectionists – didn’t trip on his way out the door. The rioters – who were pillaging the Capitol building, defacing property, breaking windows, stealing government documents, and assaulting Capitol Police – expected white-glove treatment and got it. When they didn’t – like when a cop killed Ashley Babbitt as she tried to climb through a window after being told to stop – the same people were quick to turn on police with vengeance.
Mogelstein contrasts the police’s obsequious behavior with how law enforcement treated Black Lives Matter protestors, who were routinely assaulted with chemical munitions and other military-grade crowd-control weapons.
What about others who encounter the police? Mapping Police Violence found 391 people have been killed by police in 2022 thus far. People routinely die in jail for lack of medical care or violent attacks. People who are Black, Indigenous, non-citizens, poor, disabled, and LGBTQ+ are more likely to encounter the police and, therefore, more likely to be victims of police violence. In Jefferson Parish, a sheriff’s deputy with a known history of complaints about excessive violence, dragged a woman by her hair and slammed her to the ground. The sheriff’s investigation found his actions “both reasonable and acceptable.” Do you think these leaders are concerned about white supremacy in the ranks?
In his Pennsylvania speech, Biden spoke of rebuilding trust between communities and the police. But there is already a contract with the police. The contract is reinforced by both political parties. The contract assumes that the federal government will tiptoe around law enforcement and pretend that it can be reformed. And the minute the government stops pretending? Well, we already know that the other side is well armed and ready to fight for their blood and soil